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Made in Florida: Why Manufacturers Are Setting Up Shop in the Sunshine State

Manufacturers exporting goods appreciate easy port access.

Florida is working to answer the rapidly growing manufacturing industry’s needs. Home to over 20,000 manufacturers, it’s no surprise the state is the base for everything from hydro excavators to commercial elevators. Whether a large company moves in or a homegrown like JL Audio opens its doors, there are advantages to running a manufacturing business in Florida.

JL Audio got its start in 1975 when its founders built audio speakers out of a garage. The business expanded to car stereos, then the home audio subwoofer market. Given the extensive boat-building industry in Florida, JL Audio became an OEM partner building speakers for boats, continuing to grow its product line and manufacturing capabilities. The company eventually settled in Miramar, southern Broward County outside Miami. JL Audio now has 350 employees with more than 10 assembly lines and multiple production areas.

Ample workforce
Robert Oxenhorn, CPA, director of finance and accounting at JL Audio, says one surprising thing about the Florida workforce is there’s a wealth of talent not always apparent when looking at a resume. He’s seen that a lot of people in South Florida may be working in jobs or careers that aren’t necessarily what they studied, but they’re smart, entrepreneurial and ambitious. JL Audio often hires someone for one job and learns about the person’s other abilities and experience for multiple other roles.

He’s seen growth in larger companies coming to Florida and offering distribution and warehouse positions. As a private company, JL Audio benefits from that, too, as some employees prefer to work for a homegrown, private company. The company found a willing and available workforce for all the positions it’s hired for in the last few years, including higher-level manufacturing, warehousing, inventory management, sales, office jobs, IT and all levels of production.

Benefits to Florida
Oxenhorn says there are many benefits to manufacturing in Florida. One is the wealth of local suppliers. “Something I recommend to anyone coming to Florida for manufacturing is to look in your own backyard before going out of state or overseas for suppliers,” he says. It used to be cheaper to go overseas but in the last decade, and especially in the last five years, JL Audio found great suppliers in the Tampa and Orlando areas. “A lot of these companies are producing quality materials in the state,” he says.

You can get to the vendor in a couple of hours, and delivery time is a day or two versus months for overseas suppliers. When you communicate, it’s all the same time zone. “You start to run into issues otherwise, if not working the same hours. There’s a lag time in communication and in getting samples delivered,” he says. Getting it done locally trims time when making new products or getting existing ones.

“Something I recommend to anyone coming to Florida for manufacturing is to look in your own backyard before going out of state or overseas for suppliers.”

Another reason Florida has been a good home for JL Audio is its business greatly expanded because of its close access to boat builders. Marine work is now a substantial portion of sales, and JL Audio is a few hours drive from a large percentage of those customers, who are scattered throughout the state.

There are some industry-specific manufacturing hubs that are attractive to some manufacturers. Miramar, where JL Audio resides, has been an aerospace hub for the last seven to eight years. Telecommunication companies abound in South Florida. There’s a heavy concentration of manufacturing in Orlando and Tampa.

Manufacturers exporting goods appreciate easy port access. JL Audio uses ports in Miami and Everglades. “Having both of those within 30 to 40 minutes by truck keeps shipping costs low,” he says. JL Audio sells products to over 45 countries in Europe, Asia and South America.

Oxenhorn adds some manufacturers take advantage of the local foreign trade zones, noting, “For exporters, that’s a huge benefit to move (their products) duty free.”

Oxenhorn says Florida is a good place for small to medium sized businesses with under $40 million-$50 million in revenue. Having no individual state income tax, is a benefit for LLCs, partnerships or S corporations. The business environment is fairly relaxed and accommodating. As a small business, there aren’t huge barriers to entry as you’ll find in some other states. Local and state governments are easy to work with, and the local workforce development arms are good at helping businesses succeed and expand. “There’s a lot of emphasis on business growth,” says Oxenhorn.